I want to start off by saying that I love my job. I love most parts of it, and in a day I see more things that make me happy than things that make me sad. But today I saw something that made me sad, and it threw off all of the good of the day.
The clinic where I work recently incorporated Sundays into our weekly work schedule. As it’s kind of a new thing and we’re still trying to get word out to our clients that we’re now open seven days per week, Sundays are slow. We have two receptionists, one doctor, and one technician, along with the three kennel staff who have always worked on Sundays. Sundays are pretty chill in the clinic, but they’re also a challenge since we can be a little short-staffed or a little over-staffed since they’re so unpredictable. My first Sunday shift was quite relaxed and relatively easy, but today, my second Sunday, was hard.
It wasn’t hard because there were too many appointments in a row or even because we had an extremely angry feline patient come in for vaccinations. It was hard because we had a walk-in 1:30 appointment. Walk-ins are the most unpredictable of all appointments, as I’m sure one could imagine. Today our walk-in called a couple of hours ahead, so we were expecting their presence, but not the challenge their appointment would prove.
The patient was an almost one year-old cat which had been seen early last week for an upper respiratory infection. This kitty was given an antibiotic injection and sent home on meds to induce appetite, as it hadn’t been eating well since the onset of the URI (lack of appetite isn’t uncommon in ill kitties). However, this kitty wasn’t getting any better. We were mostly concerned with dehydration and potential liver and kidney damage as a result of the cat’s anorexia and unwillingness to drink water, so we recommended blood work. The owner didn’t have much money, but he got together what he could to do a simple in-house panel. The doctor looked at the blood work we pulled and told me she was worried the kitty had a feline retrovirus. We ran a Feline Combo Test, looking for evidence of Feline AIDs or Feline Leukemia.
After an antagonizing ten minutes spent waiting for the result of the test, the patient tested positive for Leukemia, and we understood why he wasn’t on the road to recovery. In the end, the owner decided to euthanize.
I’ve had to aid with several euthanasias during my short time as a tech, but this was by far the most difficult for me. In most patients we euthanize, there seems to be an acceptance of the issue, an understanding that it’s time to go. But the owner of this kitty wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Who would have been?
As the doctor and I left the room after the euthanasia, we heard the owner break. He sobbed over the body of his recently-lost friend, and he broke my heart in that moment. I thought about the fact that he had no idea this would be the outcome of his young cat’s visit to the vet clinic today. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t have years of time with this cat to look back on and think about all their great memories, that his cat had lived a long and fulfilling life. My eyes began to burn with the anticipation of tears as I empathized with this man who loved his cat so strongly, this man who had saved his kitty’s life by adopting him from a local shelter, only to realize he had to also end his life much too soon.
It’s been a few hours since I got home from work, but I can’t get the image of the man sobbing over Dave the cat out of my head. I experienced the worst part of working in a veterinary hospital today, and it sucked.